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The Cognitive Abilities Test
Q: Please explain the purpose of the Cognitive Abilities Test that first graders take in the fall. Should a parent worry if a the child is below average on one ability? What should a parent do to help the child improve? Is this test the same as an IQ test? My six-year-old child's scores were 25 verbal, 83 quantitative, and 73 non-verbal.
A: The Cognitive Abilities Test is a group aptitude or ability test and it produces a score which is comparable to an IQ score. Any time a test is given in a group setting it is not considered as accurate an estimate as an individually-administered IQ-test would be. On top of that, your child was only six years old and this was probably the first such test that he or she had ever taken. Children in first grade are highly distractible, and if Susie is coughing or Johnny is erasing something loudly, the other children around them will probably be distracted. In addition, most authorities believe that IQ does not stabilize until around age seven, so scores before that age may be taken with a grain of salt.
Many schools do give ability tests in early elementary school in order to screen children to determine who needs either enrichment for giftedness or extra assistance for a possible learning problem. There is really no way to help a child score better on an ability test, although maturity and exposure to academics will help stabilize a child's score.
The scores you indicate for your child do show a large split between verbal and nonverbal skills. This may be attributed to distractibility or it may indicate that his or her verbal skills are weaker than nonverbal. If your child has trouble with reading you may want to ask the school about individual language testing.
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Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.